If you want to be one of the few fortunate adventurers to see mountain gorillas in the misty rainforest of Africa, you can book a gorilla trekking tour independently or through a tour operator who will handle your accommodation, meals, transport, and all local logistics.
If you want to be one of the few fortunate adventurers to see mountain gorillas in the misty rainforest of Africa, you can book a gorilla trekking tour independently or through a tour operator who will handle your accommodation, meals, transport, and all local logistics. Many chose the latter to avoid dealing with foreign logistic nightmares.
Visiting the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Uganda and Rwanda is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a growing interest from nature lovers, conservationists, and forest adventure nerds. The demand for the experience has attracted many local and international tour operators to help travelers deal with gorilla trekking tour logistics and manage their vacation trips.
A local specialist will give you in-depth local knowledge with guides on the ground, in national parks, lodges, camps, and communities surrounding conservation areas. These specialists visit the lodges and camps and, become familiar with the services, pick and recommend service providers that suit your travel preferences. They can also recommend the best gorilla trekking sectors to book your permit. This knowledge can prove invaluable when planning your gorilla trekking trip.
Ground-handling gorilla tour operators employ reliable drivers or trip managers who know the terrain well and can negotiate the steep dirt tracks to the gorilla safari lodges and park entrances. Dirt roads connecting the highways to the parks can go up to 20 miles (32 kilometers), meandering through steep mountainsides, like around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and need a well-practiced driver to navigate without crashing the jeep into the valley.
"We have a fleet of 4x4 customized cruisers for just these roads and drivers for each monster cruiser. The driver, who usually doubles as the trip manager, picks you up from the airport, checks you into your lodge, ensures you get the proper meals and services, and transfers you to the gorilla trekking starting point. They will ensure you are the most comfortable during your vacation trip in Africa."
Mercy - Specialist, Gorilla Junction
That's the beauty of booking a gorilla trekking tour with a local tour operator. They do the hard part so you can experience the authentic Africa you so dreamed about.
Depending on how you approach planning your vacation trip to Africa, putting together the pieces of a holiday trip can be exciting or exhausting. Some people love the thrill of finding the best deals on airfare, lodges, and destinations, while others want nothing more than to hand it over to a tour agent to do it for them.
Suppose you plan to extend your African holiday trip after seeing the gorillas; your local specialist can provide an itinerary to include other safari activities, accommodation in other parks, and transfers between places.
Uganda offers a variety of African safari activities that would save you the border-crossing nightmare, like big game wildlife safaris, cultural encounters, mountain climbing, and watching primates. Your gorilla trekking tour could extend to Queen Elizabeth for a wildlife safari and stay for two nights and Kibale Forest to see chimpanzees and stay for two nights.
As soon as you decide on your trip dates, ensure you begin the booking process for a trekking permit which will give you access to the park.
Your gorilla trekking tour must include a tracking permit issued by a government body. You will only see mountain gorillas with a permit, and the gorilla permit price is non-negotiable.
There are professional associations like AUTO and UTB (Uganda), and RTTA (Rwanda) that vet members they recommend to all travelers. Book your gorilla tour with a vetted tour operator to ensure you get value for money.
It is also possible to book your trekking permit independently if you research and book well in advance, giving you plenty of time to organize a perfect African journey to see primates. However, when you travel alone by bus or self-drive and the vehicle breaks down, you'll wish you had used an operator. In such circumstances, you cannot reschedule a gorilla permit and could lose your hard-earned savings traveling independently.
Book your gorilla permit first thing before anything else, at least six months before you plan to travel. Remember, gorilla permits are highly regulated and insufficient for the hungry number of tourists wanting to see gorillas. High-season gorilla permits are incredibly scarce because all travelers want to take advantage of the excellent weather of June-September.
A gorilla permit can admit one adult above 15 and allow you to see the great apes for one hour. So when planning your gorilla trekking tour, book more permits to see the gorillas more than once.
I think if you've read this far, you must have a few unanswered questions about how to book a gorilla trekking tour. Let's dive into some of the most frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking tours and arm you for your first trip to Africa to see gorillas.
For many travelers, trekking to see gorillas in Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth the time, money, and excitement; for others, it's a life-changing adventure. The primate experience highly depends on your passion for wildlife encounters in dark misty tropical woods in the mountains.
From our experience with visitors, it's infrequent to find someone say that the gorilla tour was a less than extraordinary experience.
Gorilla trekking is a whole day's activity in the rainforest jungles of East Africa, not just the precious hour you spend observing the great apes. To get maximum value from the trekking experience, prepare your body and mind for the activity. Be as fit as possible, wear the right gear, rest well, and try to pack only a few vacation activities into your itinerary.
Uganda and Rwanda are fascinating countries with much more than 'just' gorilla trekking; round out your experience with a few more days of connecting deeply with the people and the land.
Even though their bodies are massive compared to ours and their unfair reputation through entertainment mediums, gorilla trekking is safe. Fortunately, expert primate researchers have employed several approved methods to keep humans and primates safe and comfortable.
Firstly, the gorilla families tourists can visit go through a gradually slow process of accepting humans into their troops called gorilla habituation. The process takes about two years before tourists can comfortably sit about 32 feet (10 meters) from the dark-fared giant apes.
Even when you come close to the gorillas, you must observe the distance and wear a face mask to avoid the transfer of dangerous pathogenes between man and gorilla and keep calm long enough to prevent agitating that would prematurely end your welcome.
An expert guide and two armed rangers must accompany all gorilla trekking expeditions. Another set of rangers spends the entire day with the mountain gorillas throughout the year.
Lastly, you're only allowed to visit gorilla groups that are habituated to the presence of humans and open for tourism. That means the gorillas are familiar with having humans around them; they mean no harm.
Gorillas are generally timid, spending most of their time feeding, caring for their young, and strengthening their social bonds. When we respect their peaceful existence, they allow us to visit safely. However, like wild animals, they can exhibit defensive behavior if threatened, particularly around their young. Your trained guide will recognize the aggressive signs like grants, charging, and drumming chests and advise you on safety; do what they tell you. Basically, when a gorilla becomes suddenly aggressive, crouch, look away or down, and try to act relaxed. The rangers will have seen this before you and will take all necessary action to protect you. So go!
Whether trekking in Uganda or Rwanda, the gorilla trekking excursion can be physically demanding. The mountain woods have muddy floors and thick and misty vegetation with no trails; you must prepare your physical and mental states before you go.
However, you can hire local porters to carry your daypacks and pull your hands when you need help. Also, take a walking stick to support your legs. The lead guides always take the pace of the slowest person in the group. Altitude sickness shouldn't be a worry if you spend at least a day acclimatizing at the lodge before the hike into the wooded mountains. Carry enough water to drink, stay hydrated, and avoid altitude headaches.
Age shouldn't be a problem; we've taken 70-year-olds to see gorillas for over a decade and haven't had a bad incidence. Local porters are well equipped and experienced to help anyone through the gorilla trekking experience.
Generally, visit the gym weeks before you come and prepare to stay on your feet for at least five hours in a strange environment. Book an extra day at the lodge to help you acclimate to the altitude and come with a flexible mindset. Remember to bring a pair of lightweight waterproof hiking shoes.
With common sense and a reasonable fitness level, your gorilla trekking tour will be memorable for all the right reasons.
Your day of gorilla trekking will be long, active, and may be physically demanding. You'll be hiking in thick tropical woods at high altitudes; it gets chilly in the evenings and mornings, and the days are hot—especially when you're clambering a muddy mountainside. Having the right gear makes all the difference:
Seeing mountain gorillas in either Rwanda or Uganda is a costly undertaking. The combined cost of a gorilla trekking tour, including permits, transport, accommodation, and meals, can bring overall trip costs to more than $5,000 per person. So why is a gorilla tour that darn expensive?
Firstly, mountain gorillas are an endangered species with some of the most expensive security and most successful sustainable program to keep them alive in their natural environment. Between keeping them alive and finding funds to keep doing it, authorities must control access to their habitats to a manageable number of tourists. Notwithstanding, gorillas share up to 98% of human DNA, making them vulnerable to dangerous human pathogens. The entire conservation program and gorilla tourism is a delicate endeavor requiring huge funds to keep it going.
A significant percentage of gorilla permit sales go into gorilla conservation programs and managing their habitats. More is channeled into primates monitoring and research, ranger services, and developing poor communities surrounding the gorilla sanctuaries.
Substantially, the cost of a gorilla trekking tour is relatively inexpensive. It's worth the value, considering its importance in contributing to the survival of the endangered primates.
The minimum age requirement for a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda and Uganda is 15 years. That's why you verify your age by sharing your passport copy with the booking agent and showing it at the entrance gate. Researchers think anyone younger may be unable to contain their excitement in the presence of gorillas. They may freak out and startle the gorillas into aggressive mode.
Gorilla trekking rules state that you must leave 32 ft (10 meters) between yourself and the gorillas during your visit. However, the rule could not apply to gorillas; curious ones may come to you because of your dress or body odor. Usually, your guide would have seen this and will ask you to stay calm and follow his lead.
You should be wearing a facemask, just in case they come close to you. Facemasks are mandatory for everyone, including rangers, porters, and guides, to protect the gorillas from any infectious viruses you may have carried to the forest.
The gorillas will typically be more relaxed after foraging their breakfast, lazily laying around, grunting, grooming, and farting. If you need a better view, ask your guide. They usually find one by cutting down some branches with permission from the big daddy silverback using distinctive grants.
The silverback mountain gorilla is the world's largest living primate. A fully grown silverback stands 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 meters) tall and can weigh between 300-440lbs (140-200kg). Females are shorter, standing 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) tall and weighing 200-220 lbs (90-100 kgs).
Silverbacks are incredibly strong, eight to nine times stronger than a wrestler. They are also surprisingly quick, running up to 25 mph.